As perhaps is appropriate, I came to read A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolf in a very roundabout way. I decided to buy Interlibrary Loan after seeing it in the bargain area at Barnes and Noble. I was in a bit of reading funk as far as fiction so was looking for something different to shake things up. I then found out that it was the second book in a series. So checked out A Borrowed Man from the library.
It is perhaps a hundred years in the future, our civilization is gone, and another is in place in North America, but it retains many familiar things and structures. Although the population is now small, there is advanced technology, there are robots, and there are clones.
E. A. Smithe is a borrowed person. He is a clone who lives on a third-tier shelf in a public library, and his personality is an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer. Smithe is a piece of property, not a legal human.
A wealthy patron, Colette Coldbrook, takes him from the library because he is the surviving personality of the author of Murder on Mars. A physical copy of that book was in the possession of her murdered father, and it contains an important secret, the key to immense family wealth. It is lost, and Colette is afraid of the police. She borrows Smithe to help her find the book and to find out what the secret is. And then the plot gets complicated.
I found it to be an odd book. I don’t have an history of reading Wolfe, however, so have nothing to judge it against or to give the style some context.
At some level it is just a mystery but there is the fact that the narrator is a re-clone of a murder mystery author from 100 years ago who can be checked out from the library. It has been a while since a mystery, let alone one with such a unique plot device. I think the main character’s style/voice threw me off. Perhaps I missed some symbolism and depth, but even though I felt like I found a rhythm in the second half of the story, it just didn’t really click for me.